“My family drains me, Doctor…They’re so demanding. And they don’t care about me.”

The complaint from Betty X (a wife, mother of two and caretaker for her elderly parents) is familiar to practicing physicians. Many patients feel overpowered by the family demands.

Any system consists of several individual parts that are essential and related to one another when a certain outcome is desired. Members of a family system fit together to form a functional family unit; examining the family system uncovers some defined patterns. We were assigned a job. We have specific skills and expectations at play.

Virginia Satir, an American psychotherapist, said that the “presenting issue” was not the “real problem” but rather the particular “way the members” coped with it in the end.

She encouraged therapists to shift their clinical focus more to relationship education.We should first connect with one another and then extend those connections to other people. Her universal mantra was summarized as: peace within, peace between and peace among.

There are basically 5 identifiable stereotypical roles in the family system:

  • The Hero: successful, a decision maker, an initiator, a natural leader; challenged by perfectionism, inability to play and fear of mistakes.
  • The Clown: fair sense of humor, flexible and ability to relieve stress; challenged by need for attention, bad behavior and poor decisions.
  • The Scapegoat: creative, shows feelings, sense of humor, less denial; challenged by inappropriate anger, intrusiveness and rebelliousness.
  • The Lost Child: independent, flexible, ability to follow, easy-going; challenged by inability to initiate, sense of isolation and confusion.
  • The Care taker: empathetic, good listener, sensitive to others, giver; challenged by inability to receive, self-denial and martyr resentment.

These patterns have predictive value and can be modified to avoid repetition. Almost all of us have played one (and maybe more) of these roles in our family unit. Do you recognize any of them in your personality or in those of others members of your own unit?

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.


5 thoughts on “Understanding the family system

  1. My role ..Chauffeur drive any one of the family members any where anytime most anyplace ..priceless. Good time to connect en route,along life’s trails ..I like the concept of peace among and between which augurs well for calming all the other characteristics of clown,martyr ,hero…I suppose saying whatever floats your boat would be me..in my clown mode. A degree of flexibility and pliability is sometimes called for among the ‘troops’ .

    1. Dear “Someone” or should I say “The Stoic One”? Good morning and thank you for your commentary. Of course we must try to remain flexible in order to help our family members’ needs in various occasions. As we speak, I am doing my two adorable( but a little lazy) children’s laundry while I am also fixing our lunch. C’est la vie…I hope you have a blessed Sunday in the company of your loved ones. A big kiss. Au revoir.

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